Sun, Aug 16, 2015 - Page 19 News List

FEATURE: US women’s soccer hopes to cash in on World Cup win

Reuters, WASHINGTON

Houston Dash forward Melissa Henderson, center, moves the ball past Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, during the first half of a soccer match at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston on July 12.

Photo: AP

Five weeks after leading the US to a stirring World Cup championship, Carli Lloyd is convinced the US is finally ready to embrace women’s professional soccer for the long run.

The men’s North American Soccer League has enjoyed a significant attendance bump since the title and Lloyd said the post-World Cup euphoria feels “extremely different” this time around.

“We’ve built a legacy that will carry on forever,” Lloyd, who scored three goals in a 5-2 triumph over Japan in the World Cup final, told reporters in an interview. “That’s what’s so cool about it. The excitement didn’t just last a couple days.”

The US’ nine-team National Women’s Soccer League, in its third year of existence, averaged about 4,400 fans prior to the World Cup final but nearly 5,800 since the July 5 match in Vancouver, Canada. There was not one sell-out prior to the World Cup but there have been 13 since.

It is not like the sport has not seen this before in the US.

Attendance at US soccer leagues generally rises following a World Cup — men or women — when fans are excited but then wanes within a few weeks when soccer falls back into second-tier existence in the US sporting landscape.

Therein lies the task at hand for National Women’s Soccer League commissioner Jeff Plush, a former managing director of the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, the top US men’s league. His goal is to make the recent attendance gains “the new normal, and not just a bump.”

“We want to take this opportunity to hold ourselves to a different expectation,” he said. “We’re seeing now what’s possible and that’s exciting. We can hold ourselves accountable to different metrics, a different story.”

Prior to the National Women’s Soccer League, the Women’s United Soccer Association and the Women’s Professional Soccer battled each other to gain traction in the US market. However, both folded within three years.

Lloyd, a 33-year-old midfielder who plays for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash, said it is important for women soccer players to have something to strive for beyond of the national team.

“This league is so important for young girls dreaming and aspiring to play professional soccer,” she said. “We weren’t able to get the attendance up in the beginning of the season... But we knew if we won the World Cup it would help the league. And it has. We’ve seen it in full force. The fan support has been awesome. They’re not just cheering for their team but for the players on the national team.”

Fifty-three National Women’s Soccer League players from 10 nations played in the Women’s World Cup, providing the league with plenty of star power. Five US players, including Lloyd, played in every minute of the tournament.

Becky Sauerbrunn, one of the US players who never left the pitch during the tournament, said the women’s title, the third for the US, won over neutral fans.

“We’ve always had very strong, fanatic, loyal supporters,” said Sauerbrunn, a defender who plays for FC Kansas City in the National Women’s Soccer League. “But we’re starting to win more people over into that group. The interest that we got in Canada has definitely carried over. And we hope to keep riding that success.”

The National Women’s Soccer League saw its potential last month when the Portland Thorns hosted the rival Seattle Reign before a league-record crowd of 21,144 at Providence Park.

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